The French in Canada and Florida.Article 9 of 18 English on the coasts of Massachusetts and Virginia (1620).
Carte politique de l'Amérique du Nord avec les principaux établissements coloniaux européens
Principaux établissements coloniaux européens de l'Atlantique au 17ème siècle.


The Dutch on the banks of the Hudson in 1613.


In 1609, the Englishman Hendrick Hudson explored the coast of New York Bay on behalf of the Dutch East India Company and sailed up the river that bears his name. The logbook tells of the first encounter with the Mohagan (Delaware) Indians. Hudson offers a bottle of gin, which the Indians do not touch, until the cacique drinks it, unable to refuse a gift. He falls over in a stupor, then regains consciousness and tells of his wonderful dreams before everyone tastes it. The island is nicknamed Manahachtanieck, the one where "all became drunk"[1] .

The first families of colonists settled there in 1624. The fort of New Amsterdam became a trading post for furs with the Amerindians. The colony, run by the backers of the West-Indische Company (WIC), did not leave much evidence about the life and customs of the Amerindians during the first contacts. The Dutch and then the English formed an alliance with the Iroquois confederacy to divert the St Lawrence fur trade to their Hudson River trading posts. The Iroquois did not allow them to enter their territories. Dutch or English descriptions of their way of life are rare and focused on trade.

As in the other American colonies of the early 17th century, the Dutch settlers brewed beer from the very first settlements for the same reason: providing a healthy fermented beverage. In fact, maize was used from the beginning of English settlement for brewing, both at Jamestown and Plymouth. Barley crops often failed, and the cost of importation was prohibitive, although it should be noted that early Dutch settlers in what is now New York and Delaware had more success in brewing something that looks more like a European beer, with hops and malted barley. In 1612, Adrian Block and Hans Christiansen established the first commercial brewery on the North American continent in Niew-Amsterdam, on a site in what is now Lower Manhattan. In 1634 and 1640, similar breweries are being established in Quebec[2] .


English on the North Carolina coast in the 16th century.


In 1497, John Cabot set foot on the islands of Cap-Breton and Terre-Neuve, probably in the peninsula of Bonavista. He then explores the coast southward without encountering any natives or even going ashore. John Cabot disappears at sea during his third voyage in 1498. English expeditions are halted for a time


Algonquin peoples in 17th century North Carolina
Algonquin peoples in 17th century North Carolina.


The colonisation projects resumed in 1584 under the patronage of Walter Raleigh and targeted Florida, which was more or less controlled by the Spanish. The flotilla anchored on 5 July 1584 on the north coast of Florida at Roanoke, an island in the Outer Banks coastal archipelago measuring about thirty by ten km. The Roanoke colony tried brewing with corn as early as 1584, so there was already some awareness that it would be problematic to rely on barley alone. The two captains Barlowe and Amadas explored the region, established a military camp, made sure that Europeans could live there, and brought back to England two Algonquian Indians from the Powhatans tribe[3] .


In May 1587, three ships set sail from England to found a settlement: among the 110 settlers were farmers and craftsmen and 18 women. John White, who had lived in the first settlement at Roanoke, was appointed leader of the expedition and governor of the future colony. The colony was established in Chesapeake Bay, which was considered more suitable than Roanoke and was evacuated in 1586. On land, Thomas Harriot (cartographer, mathematician and physicist [4] ) described everything he saw and John White drew watercolours. A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia... was published in 1588, then again in 1590, enriched with watercolours by White. The whole constitutes an exceptional testimony on the life of the Secotan Amerindians[5].

Amerindian village of Secoton, with cornfields and granaries, near the British colony of Ranoke Island (John White 1585).
Amerindian village of Secoton, with cornfields and granaries, near the British colony of Ranoke Island (John White 1585).

From the very first contacts, the English settlers were acquainted with the three main starchy plants of the Amerindians: maize, sweet potato and manioc. The Amerindians made pancakes from them, which the colonists combined with bread and thick soups that could only ferment. But here again, the frontier between liquid beer and fermented soup was not familiar to the colonists :

Pagatowr, a kinde of graine so called by the inhabitants; the same in the West Indies is called Mayze: English men call it Guinney wheate or Turkie wheate, according to the names of the countreys from whence the like hath beene brought. The graine is about the bignesse of our ordinary English peaze and not much different in forme and shape: but of diuers colours: some white, some red, some yellow, and some blew. All of them yeelde a very white and sweete flowre: beeing vsed according to his kinde it maketh a very good bread. Wee made of the same in the countrey some mault, whereof was brued as good ale as was to bee desired. So likewise by the help of hops therof may bee made as good Beere. It is a graine of marueilous great increase; of a thousand, fifteene hundred and some two thousand fold. There are three sortes, of which two are ripe in an eleuen and twelue weekes at the most: sometimes in ten, after the time they are set, and are then of height in stalke about sixe or seuen foote. The other sort is ripe in fourteene, and is about ten foote high, of the stalkes some beare foure heads, some three, some one, and two: euery head containing fiue, sixe, or seuen hundred graines within a fewe more or lesse. Of these graines besides bread, the inhabitants make victuall eyther by parching them; or seething them whole yntill they be broken; or boyling the floure with water into a pappe.” Hariot (1585, 17-18).

So no corn beer brewed by the Indians according to Thomas Harriot's report, at least in the guise of a liquid drink!

The situation is alike with the uses of sweet potatoes:

Tsinaw a kind of roote much like vnto the which in England is called the China root brought from the East Indies. And we know not anie thing to the cõtrary but that it maie be of the same kind. These roots grow manie together in great clusters and doe bring foorth a brier stalke, but the leafe in shape far vnlike; which beeing supported by the trees it groweth neerest vnto, wil reach or climbe to the top of the highest. From these roots while they be new or fresh beeing chopt into small pieces & stampt, is strained with water a iuice that maketh bread, & also being boiled, a very good spoonemeate in maner of a gelly, and is much better in tast if it bee tempered with oyle. This Tsinaw is not of that sort which by some was caused to be brought into England for the China roote, for it was discouered since, and is in vfe as is aforesaide: but that which was brought hither is not yet knowne neither by vs nor by the inhabitants to serue for any vse or purpose; although the rootes in shape are very like."

The situation is somewhat clearer with cassava. The making of sour cakes with cassava flour provides a possibility of alcoholic and lactic fermentation when the cassava loaves are soaked in water:

Coscúshaw, some of our company tooke to bee that kinde of roote which the Spaniards in the West Indies call Cassauy [cassava], whereupon also many called it by that name: it groweth in very muddie pooles and moist groundes. Being dressed according to the countrey maner, it maketh a good bread, and also a good sponemeate, and is vsed very much by the inhabitants: The iuice of this root is poison, and therefore heede must be taken before any thing be made therewithal: Either the rootes must bee first sliced and dried in the Sunne, or by the fire, and then being pounded into floure wil make good bread: or els while they are greene they are to bee pared, cut into pieces and stampt; loues of the same to be laid neere or ouer the fire vntill it be soure, and then being well pounded againe, bread, or sponemeate very good in taste, and holsome may be made thereof.[6]


The making of Native American beers prior to the arrival of English settlers on the Carolina coast from 1584 onwards is not proven. It is certain, however, that the colonists immediately brewed beer with maize, cassava or sweet potato. They quickly learned to make sprouted maize to get malt and brew a kind of hybrid Amerindian beer. A beer from cassava of sweet potato requires different brewing methods, either chewing a cooked paste or allowing an acidulous fermentation, both giving beers a bit far from the European gusto in that times. If they have been brewed during the first European settlements, they have made no way to a lasting brewing tradition.

[1] Cherrington 1925, 3. A name corrupted into Manhattan by the English.

[2] Ferland 2005, 33.

[3] Two Croatoan leader men, Manteo and Wanchese.,_Secotans_and_Neiosioke and

David Beers Quinn (1985), Set fair for Roanoke : voyages and colonies, 1584-1606, University of North Carolina Press.

[4] Thomas Harriot (1560-1621) is an amazing character. He learned Algonquin. In 1588, he developed a grammar of Algonquin, of which only a few pages remain. As an astronomer, he observed the moon a few months before Galileo. As a mathematician, he continued Viète's work on algebra.

[5]   Watercolours with comparison between John White's originals and the black and white engravings by Theodore De Bry (1590).

[6] For completeness, Harriot also describes two types of vine and the wine that can be made : “There are two kinds of grapes that the soile doth yeeld naturally: the one is small and sowre of the ordinarie bignesse as ours in England: the other farre greater & of himselfe luscious sweet. When they are plãted and husbandeg as they ought, a principall commoditie of wines by them may be raised.

The French in Canada and Florida.Article 9 of 18 English on the coasts of Massachusetts and Virginia (1620).